Agile Transformations are Evolutionary, not Revolutionary

Agile Transformations are Evolutionary, not Revolutionary

2019-10-29T21:56:32+13:00Oct 29th, 2019|Agile Coaching, Agile Exceptional Performance, Blog|

I picked this idea of change being an essential part of what we coach and how we coach during David Anderson’s Coaching Kanban workshop and it has stuck with me every since. People have emotional reactions to change, especially change that is forced on them. It’s not that we don’t like change, we just don’t like change that we feel we have no control over. This is what we resist and this is where coaches get stuck.

Evolutionary Change vs Revolutionary Change (Working with Resistance)

Successful coaches take into account this inbuilt resistance and work with it, rather than against it. They work with change as an evolution. This is significantly different to how corporates often treat change. Here change is an event that can be managed, with a start and end date and is generally revolutionary in that it creates a large, drastic upset that comes with a large amount of resistance. This type of change is notoriously unreliable and requires large amounts of effort to sustain. On the other hand, evolutionary change tends to stick. Evolutionary change starts where the teams are at and grows into a sustainable end state. Incidentally, this sustainable end state is where revolutionary change tries to start

Coaching Anti-patterns

What does this mean for you as a coach ? Here are some anti-patterns (with their counter) that I have observed that keep coaches and their teams in high resistance, revolutionary change.

  1. Stop Telling! Start sharing and sparking curiosity.

Coaches often forget that (for the most part ) the teams they are working in are highly competent, capable professionals. For agile to stick, teams need to own it and to own it, teams should be taking agile ideas and integrating these into their own way of thinking. They need to find their own inner agility. When coaches stop telling people how to do agile and instead share the knowledge they have and spark curiosity in their teams as to how the team could be using this agility starts to grow

  1. Stop insisting and start experimenting.

Every team is unique and every team is starting from a slightly different place. Yes as the coach I know that metrics are essential, but insisting that the team start to measure isn’t going to make it happen. What is the problem they are facing into that this will solve ? What questions can I ask that gets them curious and then, what experiments can we run together to find out more ? What can they choose for themselves ?

  1. Stop focusing on agile and focus on solving business problems using agile.

I can’t say this enough. Agile maturity isn’t the goal, delivering more value to our customers with more ease is the goal and agile is how we take teams there. If we want to teams to own agile then what we do needs to be personal. It needs to solve a problem they are experiencing. The more problems we remove using agile the better the flow of work, the more engaged and curious the teams become, the more agile starts to grow itself.

Why do I want to start to visualise and measure waste ? It sounds like more work! We have enough work to deliver as it is.

I would however be interested in getting a day back and I am interested in showing people where my work is sitting waiting for answers and the number of times we have to go back to a cab and do re-work.

  1. Stop focusing on all the things that are in place at the end of the journey (like metrics) and focus on where you are right now and what now needs most.  

Everything we know about agile we know from teams who have made it to the end and so we try and start at the end. It is like starting to run a super marathon without ever having started to just run around the block and learn about how you run. Yes, metrics are nice and valuable and needed, but right now you may actually just need to be able to see how decisions are wasting time or where work is bottle necking and why. Right now, we may just be trying to stabilise the sprint so that we can actually deliver what we set out to deliver without all the noise. The rest comes later. Along the way we may find that we need to have some more facts to hand that help us understand how we do our work, we may need to measure and so metrics suddenly becomes part of what we need to know.

  1. Stop jumping canyons, create easy to bite chunks – boil that frog slowly.

Jumping canyons is a phrase my coaches have started to coin when I get too far ahead of them. Agile isn’t only about getting a new way of working into a team. It is about working with the team while they are doing the work. Let me put it another way – we don’t get to do practice games. We get to learn as we play in the World Cup. So don’t jump canyons! What is the next step that will take us as a team to where we want to go. Focus on that and when that is integrated then focus on the next step.


When coaches focus on how they can support their teams rather than how they can make teams agile, magic happens. My invitation to everyone reading this is to take a step back and reflect on how many of the 5 anti-patterns you may be inadvertently using.

What impact are you actually having as a coach ? Are you supporting the team, resolving problems that stop them from delivering ?

What could you start to do differently that could shift your teams into evolutionary change ?

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